When the Las Vegas Raiders open up the 2021 season they will be doing so against one of the most exciting players in the entire NFL.
This, of course, is Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. At this point, Jackson needs almost no introduction but here it is anyway. A former Heisman Trophy winner at Louisville, his playmaking ways instantly translated to the NFL. In his first full season as a starter in 2019, he was a Pro Bowler, first-team All-Pro, and the NFL MVP after leading the league in passing touchdowns and recording over 1,200 rushing yards. While he was not quite as explosive through the air in 2020, he still had over 1,000 yards on the ground. Here’s how he achieves this success and some ways the Raiders can hope to contain him.
An underrated passer
One of the biggest misconceptions among NFL fans is that Lamar Jackson cannot throw the ball. Simply, this is just straight-up wrong. Now, is Lamar ever going to be Tom Brady in terms of passing ability? Of course not, but his arm is plenty gifted to engineer a quality passing offense to all levels of the field. One of the most impressive parts of his game is the touch he consistently displays on his deep ball.
As shown here, Lamar has easy arm strength throwing the ball over fifty yards in the air by simply flicking his wrists. In the play above, Marquise Brown is the only read Lamar Jackson has to make. He’s either going to stretch the field to Brown or check it down/use his legs. Due to the overall speed of the Ravens offense, these “shot” plays make up a large part of the passing offense as they know Lamar can act as his own check down.
How he can be even better in 2021
Going into 2021, the Ravens have added former University of Minnesota wideout Rashod Bateman. Bateman is an incredibly talented receiver who excels at gaining separation through his route running. This has been sorely lacking from the Baltimore offense. The Ravens tried to add a player of this style in Dez Bryant, but those days were long ago. The below play represents one of the ways the passing offense can evolve now that Bateman’s involved.
In this play, the Ravens are running a Smash concept to the left side out of a five-wide formation. Typically on Smash, the goal is to attack man coverage by putting the cornerback in conflict. He either chooses to defend the shallow route in front of him or the deeper route behind him. Either way, the quarterback should get an easy throw, save for a spectacular play by the defender.
However, in this play, the Browns play zone which alters the read for Lamar. He does a great job here of reading the middle linebacker and replacing him. When #93 bails to the deep middle, Lamar understands there is no longer anyone to cover the curl from Brown and does a fantastic job of delivering the ball on time and in a good spot. Throughout the season, the Ravens attempted to run plays like this multiple times but simply did not have receivers who could gain separation through conventional passing concepts. In Bateman, the Ravens finally have a player who can beat defenders 1v1 and allow Lamar to run these kinds of passing concepts more consistently.
The ultimate equalizer
Of course, the most well-known part of Jackson’s game is his running ability and creativity out of the structure. Quite simply, he may be the greatest running quarterback of all time and the Ravens use him as such. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman does a great job of deploying him creatively and often in the run game.
In the above play, the Ravens are running a version of the Inverted Veer made popular at the college level. Lamar’s read on this play is the reverse of the standard Read Option as if the edge defender stays home, he keeps the ball. If the edge guy attacks the ball, he gives it off to Dobbins. While this was not a difficult play for Lamar after he broke through to the second level, it shows the sheer explosiveness he possesses.
This knack for making something out of nothing was showcased on back-to-back plays against the Dallas Cowboys in 2020. In a must-win game for the Ravens, Lamar willed his team down the field on a scoring drive capped by these two plays.
In this play, the Cowboys’ defense has everything locked up and gets a good rush on Lamar, collapsing the pocket as he hits the final step of his drop. However, Lamar is unfazed, finds an escape route, and turns a broken play into a fourteen-yard gain. These plays are demoralizing for a defense and Jackson does them consistently.
The next play, he turns another broken play into a touchdown pass to Brown. This play happens solely due to Jackson’s willingness to extend the play. It also is quite possibly the best throw of his career to this point. This is elite quarterback play in today’s NFL.
How the Raiders can defend him
While it is going to be incredibly hard, Lamar can be slowed down. In the 2020 playoffs, the Buffalo Bills defense was able to hold him to just 162 passing yards with no touchdowns and an interception on just 58% completion percentage. In this game, the Bills did a fantastic job of limiting Jackson’s ability to go deep by keeping constant pressure on him. As is the case with all quarterbacks, pressure changes the way they play the game. It often forces his eyes away from the field for Lamar while also causing lapses in his passing mechanics.
Lamar can be seen taking his eyes off his targets and onto the oncoming pass rush from the end zone view. For the Raiders, this is where they must succeed to slow the Ravens offense. Luckily, the Raiders did well to add to this area in the 2021 off-season. Yannick Ngakoue will be asked to apply consistent pressure on his former teammate in week one. Gus Bradley will have to do a good job of keeping his pass rushers fresh in this contest and can do so by rotating Ngakoue, Crosby, Ferrell, Nassib, and Koonce. The pass rush will need to have a big day to win this game.
Don’t overreact, regardless of the result
For Las Vegas, getting to play the Ravens in Week 1 may end up being a blessing in disguise. While they are an incredibly talented team with Super Bowl aspirations, the early match-up gives the Raiders some extra time to prepare for their unorthodox offense. As such, if the Raiders defense performs well in Bradley’s debut, temper excitement for a week until they face a more traditional offense. The same goes for if they get shredded for they will not see an offense like this again all year. Either way, this will be an interesting test for Bradley. Will the Raiders’ young defense wilt against the pressure of facing a superstar quarterback? Or will Bradley have his guys ready? Week 1 will be tremendous theater, not just for fans of the teams but for football as a whole.
You May Also Like: 2021 Las Vegas Raiders Draft Class Pro Comparisons
*Top Photo: AP Photo/Nick Wass